This article came across my Twitter stream this morning. It regards a letter sent to the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services by the Governor of Colorado informing them that in some Colorado hospitals it is now acceptable for Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists to work independently of physician supervision.
The article, which is in the form of a letter written to the editor of The Aspen Times, is written by a Dr. Paul Rein who is the President of the Virginia Anesthesia and Peroperative Care Specialists. He takes issue with the lack of physician oversight and is “quite concerned” about it.
I think that the letter is important for EMS people to read. Especially us EMS people that are looking at how to expand our profession, grow our scope of practice, and expand our skill sets. It shows that there are struggles over these kinds of boundary and oversight issues all over the healthcare arena and that the politics and power struggles aren’t just limited to those of us that ride ‘round in ambulances.
The full text of the letter can be found here at The Aspen Times: http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20101004/LETTER/101009942/1020&ParentProfile=1061
The parallels I can draw from this issue to EMS are striking and enlightening. Here are some of the parts of the letter that I found the most interesting:
“A nurse anesthetist is an advanced practice registered nurse who has received special training to administer anesthesia, usually being supervised by an anesthesiologist. Anesthesiologists are physicians who, after medical school, receive an additional four to five years of specialized training during residency. Not only do anesthesiologists function in the operating room but they are trained to medically evaluate patients prior to surgery and to take care of problems that may arise immediately after surgery. In a few small hospitals a nurse anesthetist may be supervised by the surgeon if there is no anesthesiologist.”
I was curious as to the educational standards of a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist and so I went to their National Association’s web site: Http://www.AANA.com – It says this:
“The requirements for becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) mainly include having a bachelor’s degree in nursing, or other appropriate baccalaureate degree, Registered Nurse licensure, a minimum of 1 year acute care experience (ICU, ER for example), and the successful completion of both an accredited nurse anesthesia educational program and the certification examination.”
Actually, I wasn’t familiar with the requirements for a CRNA before I read that, but it says that they have to have:
- A four year degree in Something
- Licensure as a Registered Nurse
- A minimum of One Year Acute care experience
- Completed an Accredited training program
- A passing grade on the certification exam
I was curious, so I popped on over to Salary.com and typed in “Registered Nurse Anesthetist” in my own zip code for a base salary search. I found that they start out at $131,000 and top out at over $170,000 in my local area.
Then, after giving serious consideration to changing this blog from “Life Under the Lights” of Fire Trucks and Ambulances to “Life Under the Lights” of an Operating Room, I decided to point something else out about the differences and similarities of a Paramedic and a CRNA.
“The didactic curricula of nurse anesthesia programs are governed by COA standards and provide students the scientific, clinical, and professional foundation upon which to build sound and safe clinical practice. The basic nurse anesthesia academic curriculum and prerequisite courses focus on coursework in anesthesia practice: pharmacology of anesthetic agents and adjuvant drugs including concepts in chemistry and biochemistry (105 contact hours); anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology (135 contact hours); professional aspects of nurse anesthesia practice (45 contact hours); basic and advanced principles (sic) of anesthesia practice including physics, equipment, technology (sic) and pain management (105 contact hours); research (30 contact hours); and clinical correlation conferences (45 contact hours).
Most programs exceed these minimum requirements. In addition, many require study in methods of scientific inquiry and statistics, as well as active participation in student-generated and faculty-sponsored research.
Clinical residencies afford supervised experiences for students during which time they are able to learn anesthesia techniques, test theory, and apply knowledge to clinical problems. Students gain experience with patients of all ages who require medical, surgical, obstetrical, dental, and pediatric interventions. The results of a 1998 survey of program directors show that nurse anesthesia programs provide an average of 1,595 hours of clinical experience for each student.”
(Again, from http://www.AANA.com – the emphasis is mine)
Remember that the CRNA’s have a Bachelor’s Degree and a RN license prior to beginning their training. This is different from the Paramedic curriculum. We have hour requirements as well:
“The emphasis of paramedic education should be competence of the graduate, not the amount of education that they receive. The time involved in educating a paramedic to an acceptable level of competence depends on many variables. Based on the experience in the pilot and field testing of this curriculum, it is expected that the average program, with average students, will achieve average results in approximately 1000-1200 hours of instruction. The length of this course will vary according to a number of factors, including, but not limited to:
-student’s basic academic skills competence
-faculty to student ratio
-the student’s prior emergency/health care experience
-prior academic achievements
-clinical and academic resources available
-quality of the overall educational program”
(Source: Http://www.EMS.gov – Thanks to Chris Webster, Sam Bradley, Greg Friese and Kevin Reiter)
Not that the above is related to the article I read, I mean it’s saying that people with a BS degree in something, a medical license, and what amounts to a little more than an EMT-B class plus an EMT-P class from an accredited school make an average of $150k… but I digress.
Back to the article, Dr Rein has this to say about CRNAs:
“It is interesting to note that the United States is the only westernized country in the world that allows nurses to administer anesthesia unsupervised. Countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Israel, just to name a few, have no nurses administering anesthesia. In some European countries there are a few nurse anesthetists who work under the strict supervision of a physician.”
He continues and says this:
“So what’s up with us? Well, it seems that the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists have convinced our government in Washington that unsupervised nurses are just as safe as a physician. They point to the fact that there are no comparative studies to show they are not. The reason there are no studies is that it would be unethical to perform such a study in which some people get a physician and some do not. Can you imagine a patient agreeing to participate in such a study?”
Can you imagine indeed?
Dr Rein is right when he says in the letter that Anesthesia is a Medical profession and is a specialty of physicians for a reason. When he says “Just because we have made it safe is no reason to take it for granted”, he’s right as well. Anesthesia is dangerous for the untrained and inexperienced provider and it is a specialty not to be taken lightly. However, where’s the line? Is this an attempt by the”Virginia Anesthesia and Peroperative Care Specialists” to fire a shot at the “American Association of Nurse Anesthetists?” Are Doctor Anesthesiologists afraid of losing jobs to the nurses? Where is the line where patient safety is best maintained while being most cost-effective and efficient?
If this doesn’t provide incentive to you to think about requiring a degree for Paramedics, I don’t quite know what will. I’m not doing this job for the money and neither are you, but does that make us any more or less moral than a CRNA who “Isn’t doing his/her job for the money” either, but still makes a ton more of it than any paramedic I know?
You could change the names of the players in this argument, fiddle just a bit with some of the details, and change this into one of a thousand other feuds going on under the healthcare umbrella. This is the same story that paramedics face when we’re trying to get new skills, new techniques, more money, and more responsibility. While I’m not taking a stand on the CRNA/MD issue because it’s not my specialty, I’m offering up this debate as a study in professional growth and conflict between two of the myriad of medical camps out there. As we push EMS forward, grow as a profession, and promote the EMS 2.0 agenda, learning from things like this will be of value to us all.
Thanks to the following for their contributions: